Today is an off-day for the Dodgers, and as they are flying into Atlanta for a weekend series starting on Friday, I thought it would be a perfect time to bring you another great guest article from Michael V. Pina of ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. Today Michael writes about the career of Josh Beckett. Of course this is right on cue as Josh just hit the disabled list yesterday with a sore groin, and I wrote a little article about him the other day. As you know, Beckett has been terrible this season, and Michael does a great job of recapping the ups and downs, and highs and lows of a pitcher who seemed to have limitless talent when he first broke into the bigs. Michael also looks into why Beckett has struggled this season, and if there is any hope for the future of his career? Or perhaps his career may be coming to an end. At the end of the article we’ve provided his contact information and where to follow him on twitter. Big thank you to Michael for another great article. Enjoy guys! Have a relaxing day off and we’ll see you on Friday.
It was 10 years ago that a 23-year-old Josh Beckett was seen mowing down various members of the New York Yankees in the World Series, striking out 19 in 16.1 innings, sporting a 1.10 ERA, and closing the series out on three days’ rest with an epic complete game five-hit shutout in Game 6, on his way to claiming World Series MVP honors.
It was just his second season pitching at the major league level. Beckett was one of the best young pitchers in baseball, with a bright future and, seemingly, a limitless ceiling. Five years later he was the ace of a Boston Red Sox staff that dominated opponents with starting pitching, a more matured presence on the mound. Less raw physical power and more of a controlled weapon, but still monstrous in big games with brighter lights. He was a pitcher with total command of the zone, throwing high heat to Jason Varitek that nobody on this planet could catch up to.
Beckett led the American League with 20 wins in 2007, sporting a 3.27 ERA (his lowest since 2003) and drastically cutting down his walks and increasing his strike outs from the previous season (which was his first in Boston).
This season was his first as an All-Star, and the closest he’s ever come to winning the Cy Young Award (Beckett finished second to Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia despite winning one more game in four fewer starts).
The Red Sox won their second World Series in four years at the end of the season, dispatching the Colorado Rockies in a four game sweep. Beckett was a dominant force throughout that postseason, going 4-0 with one complete game shutout and a sub-2.00 ERA. He walked two hitters and gave up one homerun in exactly 30 innings pitched. It was brilliant.
But from that point forward, Beckett’s career has basically been a story of “what could’ve been.” He gave up 10 earned runs in two starts (9.1 innings pitched) during the 2008 American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, and once again floundered the following year in the American League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Up until those last two series, Beckett’s teams were undefeated in the playoffs, in both Florida and Boston. The expectations for him to keep something as impressive as that up for the rest of his career would be unfair, but Beckett instead of fighting his way back and regaining some of his reputation as a big game pitcher, he basically fell off a cliff.
The Red Sox signed him to a much maligned four-year, $68 million contract extension through 2014 at the beginning of the 2010 season, and from that point he hasn’t been the same. Once new management took over the team’s decision-making process, Boston immediately regretted the decision, packaging Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a blockbuster trade that changed the direction of both franchises.
Right now Beckett is a shell of his former self, with an average fastball speed (91.9) nearly two miles per hour lower than his career output. He isn’t going to it as much, either. As his career’s evolved, Beckett has lost trust in that flaming heat that made him so devastating. Too many fastballs were drifting up, and too many homeruns were being smashed over his head.
Beckett responded by using his cutter as a floating life-saver. Hitters adjusted. Beckett didn’t. He’s yet to win a game in 2013, losing five games (most in the league) in eight starts with a 5.19 ERA, his highest since an injury plagued 2010.
If this is in fact the end (keep in mind Beckett is owed $15.75 million this season AND next season, when he’ll be 34 years old), how will his career be viewed? His absolute peak performances are historically favorable to just about any pitcher baseball’s ever seen, but his entire body of work is a story of inconsistency and relative disappointment. Unfortunately, it appears the Dodgers got a hold of him long after he was one of baseball’s best.